Nat Hentoff's Last Column: The 50-Year Veteran Says Goodbye

I used to say, 'I've been at the Voice since the Civil War.' But now I'm off to other combats.

It was here that I was able to practice, since 1958, what I learned from my non-chic mentors. And I'll be putting on my skunk suit at other garden parties, now that I've been excessed from the Voice.

I was in my twenties when I learned my most important lesson from Izzy Stone: "If you're in this business because you want to change the world, get another day job. If you are able to make a difference, it will come incrementally, and you might not even know about it. You have to get the story and keep on it because it has to be told."

Still, there was one time when I was stunned at meeting a reader changed by what I'd written. One of my sons, Tom, is a partner at Williams & Connolly, a highly prestigious Washington law firm founded by one of my idols in the law, Edward Bennett Williams. Tom, a specialist in intellectual property and defamation, among other areas of law, once invited me to a large gathering in New York of lawyers from around the country who are also experts in those fields. Several lawyers in their thirties, it seemed to me, came to our table, and one, speaking for the others, said to me: "We're here because of you. We were in high school when we started reading you in the Voice, and you made the law so exciting. That, as I've said, is why we're here."

June 1969: Hentoff in Bryant Park with Tom Morgan, who would later become editor of the Voice.
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
June 1969: Hentoff in Bryant Park with Tom Morgan, who would later become editor of the Voice.

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RELATED:
Nat Hentoff's Greatest Hits
Excerpts from his first 50 years at the Voice

50 Years of Pissing People Off
Allen Barra celebrates Nat Hentoff

For an archive of recent Nat Hentoff columns, go here.

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Other Voice writers have had that effect on readers-the late Jack Newfield, for one-and some are still being skunks at garden parties: Tom Robbins and Wayne Barrett. Their calls get returned quickly.

Around the country, a lot of reporters are being excessed, and print newspapers may soon become collectors' items. But over the years, my advice to new and aspiring reporters is to remember what Tom Wicker, a first-class professional spelunker, then at The New York Times, said in a tribute to Izzy Stone: "He never lost his sense of rage."

Neither have I. See you somewhere else. Finally, I'm grateful for the comments on the phone and the Web. It's like hearing my obituaries while I'm still here.

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